A Christmas Cactus plant, Schlumbergera bridgesii is one of the most popular flowering houseplants sold during the Thanksgiving and Christmas holiday seasons. This cactus plant is totally different from the cactus we see growing in a hot, dry desert environment. A Christmas Cactus plant is a type of epiphyte in its native environment. Epiphytes are plants that grow on other plants, trees, and even rocks, in shady areas with high humidity.
Christmas Cactus Description
There are three different varieties of holiday cactus plants that we often confuse with each other; they are the Thanksgiving Cactus (Schlumgera truncate), the Christmas Cactus (Schlumgera bridgesti, and the Easter Cactus (Rhipsalidopsis gaertnerrii). The easiest way to tell the difference between the three cactus plants is to look at the shape of their leaves. The leaves of a Thanksgiving Cactus have pointed tips on each side of its leaf segments. The Easter Cactus, which is not even related to the other two holiday cactus plants, has very rounded leaf edges. A Christmas Cactus has smooth leaves with scalloped edges. All three varieties have stems that look like small, thick, succulent, leaf-like pads that are attached to each other, and all produce colorful flowers around the holiday they are named for.
How to Get a Christmas Cactus to Flower
A Christmas Cactus, Thanksgiving Cactus, and an Easter Cactus are phototropic plants, also called “short day” or “long night” plants. They develop buds and flowers only when the days are short (less than 12 hours of light). A Christmas Cactus and a Thanksgiving Cactus require at least six weeks of short days and an Easter Cactus requires about 8-12 weeks of “short days.”. Chrysanthemums and poinsettias are also “short day” plants.
Thanksgiving Cactus Easter Cactus Purple Christmas Cactus Christmas Cactus Flowers
A Christmas Cactus plant is an easy care, flowering plant that can live for 100 years, often passed on from generation to generation. Follow the care tips below and, with each passing year, watch your Christmas cactus get more beautiful.
How much light does a Christmas Cactus need: Place a Christmas cactus in bright indirect light but no direct sun. This plant can live in medium or low light, but flower buds may drop off or never form at all.
How to water a Christmas Cactus: Allow the top 50% of the soil to dry out before watering. Buds fall off when the plant is over watered or severely under watered. Root rot is another problem caused by giving the plant too much water. Reduce the amount of water once a Christmas Cactus has finished flowering, and start watering again normally once it starts to produce new leaves.
How to fertilize a Christmas Cactus: Feed every two weeks in the spring and summer with a liquid plant food diluted to 1/2 the recommended strength. Never feed a Christmas cactus after October 1st.
Best temperature for a Christmas Cactus: The right temperature is important if you want a Christmas cactus to produce flowers. To set the flower buds, the plant needs cool temperatures between 60°-65°F (16°-18°C) during the day and even cooler temperatures between 45°-55°F (7°-13°C) at night. Once buds have developed, provide warm temperatures between 70°F-75°F (21°C-24°C) during the day and 10° cooler temperatures at night. Cool temperatures help the flowers on a Christmas cactus to last longer.
Does a Christmas Cactus need high humidity: These plants grow well in normal household humidity.
Blooms develop when days are short and temperatures are low. Starting in early fall, place a Christmas cactus in total darkness 12 hours a day. Keeping a Christmas cactus plant in a cool area, 60°F-65°F (15.6°C-18.3°C) helps the flowers form by Christmas.
Christmas Cactus pests are mealy bugs and scale. When treating plant pest problems, avoid getting any sprays on the flowers.
Christmas cactus with necrotic spot virus get spotted, yellow or wilted leaves and stems. Over-watering causes bacterial root rot.
Use a rich acidic soil that drains well. Christmas Cactus love leftover tea.
Christmas cactus grow better and bloom more when they are slightly root-bound in smaller pots. If a Christmas cactus needs to be re-potted, usually only every few years, wait until it has finished flowering in the spring. Never re-pot a Christmas cactus when it is in bloom.
Pruning helps the plant become a full bushy and produce more blooms during the holiday season. The best time to prune a Christmas cactus is about a month after it has finished blooming. This brief rest encourages the Christmas Cactus to produce new growth and branch out. You should never prune a Christmas Cactus once summer has begun.
The best way to propagate a Christmas cactus is by using stem cuttings during the spring. Use a segment that has at least three segments, taken from a healthy stem. Allow the stem cuttings to dry out for a few hours before planting them to avoid stem rot.
Christmas cactus plants are perfect gifts for Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Poisonous Plant Info
Christmas cactus are not toxic to pets (dogs and cats) or children.
Buds drop off a Christmas Cactus without opening because of over-watering or severe under-watering, insufficient light, excessive heat, or the air is too dry.
There are several reasons why a Christmas Cactus doesn’t produce an abundance of flowers. The first is over-fertilization: stop feeding a Christmas Cactus in October if you want it to bloom for the holidays. Light & Temperature: a Christmas Cactus is a Photo and Thermo-tropic plant. Starting 8-10 weeks before the Holidays, Christmas Cactus Plants need 12-14 hours of complete darkness, cool temperatures at night, and bright light during the day. Proper light and temperature help set the buds on a Christmas Cactus Plant. Once the buds have formed, move your Christmas Cactus to an area that has bright indirect light.
After a Christmas Cactus has finished blooming, water less often so that the soil dries out more. Allow the Christmas Cactus to rest for a few weeks, and then cut off a few segments from each stem. Pruning a Christmas Cactus shortly after it has finished flowering helps the plant become bushy and full. The segments you cut off can be used to propagate new plants.
Use a good succulent plant potting soil for Christmas Cactus when it’s time to re-pot. Don’t be in a rush to move a Christmas Cactus to a larger container, they like being a little root-bound. The new container should be only one size larger than the current container and have drip holes in the bottom.
The best way to get dust off the leaves of a Christmas Cactus is to place the plant in the sink and gently spray it with warm water.
The best way to propagate a Christmas Cactus is by using stem tip cuttings in the spring.